Bar Fly

If your idea of nightlife includes hitting a bar for drinks and socializing, then our London guide is just what you want. Capitalizing on first-hand experience and extensive research, we've located the best bars in London for hanging out and kicking back in. Cocktails? You bet. From long-lived mainstays like Kettners to the jazzy coolness of Nightjar that get lots of 10Best reader approval, we present the top bars in town and offer details about them all. 

10 Vinoteca
Once a mainstay of the after-hours scene in the capital, London's wine bars were eventually replaced in popularity by gastropubs and the enduring charms of the good old British boozer. In recent years, a new breed of wine bar has emerged that, unlike their Eighties predecessors, are definitely more substance than style. Vinoteca (with branches in Marylebone and Farringdon) is one such establishment. Inspired by wine bars in Spain and Italy (known as vinotecas and enotecas respectively), Vinoteca lists nearly 300 wines. Food-wise, there's plenty of nibble options (try a selection of Jabago cured meats, almonds and olives, £7.50) as well as a range of enticing main courses such as pan seared scallops, salsify, romanesco, chorizo and Serrano ham (£12.50). Each dish comes with a considered wine recommendation. (0207 253 8786)

9 Meat Liquor
Bringing a hefty dose of urban cool to the West End, the newly-opened MEATliquor bar and restaurant blends meaty burgers with late-night cocktails. In a nod to New York's Lower East side, founders Yianni Papoutsis and Scott Collins of the infamous Meatwagon truck and legendary pop-up dive bar #Meateasy have decked the place out in gothic graffiti with blinking red neon signs. The menu includes Big Apple favourites such as fried chicken and Philly cheese steaks, offered up alongside 'Dead Hippie' cheese burgers, while cocktails are bashed down on the bar in jam jars. An English Breakfast Martini with a pickled quails egg on a stick offers a good potential hair of the dog option while a Donkey Punch, a play on the Moscow Mule made with lime juice, ginger beer and absinthe caters to livelier tastes. (02072244239)

8 Nightjar
This slice of old school glamour is hidden between two cafes on the fairly grimy City Road near Old Street tube. Head through the unmarked door, down a dark staircase and into the Nightjar: a bar with lilting jazz tunes to lift the soul and send you straight back to the time of speakeasies and seduction. The cocktail list is divided into historical eras from pre-Prohibition to Post War with a selection of vintage spirits to taste from the turn-of-the-century. Fans of the green fairy should head here for the huge range of absinthe. This place has slick service and oodles of style as well the city's most creative cocktails. They also have live music many nights of the week, all fitting with theme of course. (0207 253 4101)

7 Lab
Soho is the place to be in London, and if you show up at any hour of the day or night, you will find something going on. Though there are rows upon rows of bars to choose from, but Lab is currently considered one of the hippest. The curvaceous bar, boldly colorful walls and retro-style furniture give the bar a '70's feel, and DJ's play bleeding edge music to a stylish and well-dressed crowd. Lots of beer choices and exotic, fruity drinks to keep the party vibe going. TUBE: Tottenham Court Road (20-7437-7820)

6 Kettners
Kettner's elegant 1930's style Brasserie serves mod Euro dishes. This Soho bar and restaurant is found in the heart of theatre land and is a good spot for pre and post theatre dining. Live music from Tuesday to Saturday on a beautiful white grand piano sets the scene for a glamourous night on the town. Originally a series of four Georgian town houses, Kettner's was first opened as a restaurant by Auguste Kettner, (chef to Napoleon III) in 1867. Many a colourful character including Oscar Wilde, frequented their incredible parties. There's the brasserie, Cocktail and Champagne Bar and eight Private Rooms in the Grade II listed building. The bar is a velvety den with a superb champagne list and delectable cocktails including the High & Wild. Share nibbles like smoked salmon blinis, tiny burgers or pork crackling with apple sauce are the perfect nibbles. (020 7734 6112)

5 Alphabet
This glamorous bar brings fashion fans and creative types out for an evening of drinking, socializing, and flirting. Named "Bar of the Year" by the "Evening Standard" newspaper in 1998, cocktails are the beverages of choice, but there is beer by the bottle but not on tap. A nice wine list is available, and the food is a step above standard bar fare. Downstairs on the basement level, visitors can show off their chic outfits while lounging on couches and bucket seats removed from cars. TUBE: Piccadilly Circus or Oxford Circus (20-7439-2190)

4 Christophers
A sweeping stone and wrought iron staircase circles up from the bar on the ground floor to a bistro on the first floor with a menu that has an American theme. Christophers is a class act. Cocktails (under ten quid each) are served at The Martini bar follow themes from classic martini 'Introduction' to Romance which are where the bubbly champagne and prosecco cocktails come in. Sophisticates might go for a Smokey Martini (Tanqueray Gin stirred gently over ice with a drop of Laphroig 10 year old malt whiskey and finished with a twist of lemon) while chocolate lovers: treat yourself with a Nutella Martini vanilla vodka, crème da cacao, cholcolate shavings and a swirl of cream. Decadent! (0207 240 4222)

3 69 Colebrooke Row
'The Bar with No Name' may solely be referred to as it's street address, 69 Colebrooke Row, but that doesn't make it that secret. It is difficult to find however, at least for the uninitiated, located on a dark side street in Angel. You'll need to ring the bell for entry, and you generally will need a reservation. This has a 1930s lounge bar glamour, with table service only, jazz in the background and vintage alcohol posters on the wall. The flagship bar of London's pioneering cocktail creator, Tony Conigliaro, the drinks are outstanding packed with ingredients you'll only find here, made in his laboratory upstairs. Take the Terroir - distilled clay, flint and lichen creating an earthy liquor unlike anything you will have tasted before. Budding mixologists should look out for cocktail masterclasses, while lounge-lizards will enjoy regular Sunday evening jazz. (75-4052-8593)

2 Archer Street Cocktail Bar
The swanky new Archer Street Cocktail Bar and Lounge is billed as "South Soho's best-kept secret", taking on the sophisticated style of a members-only club but open to all those know in the know". It is an oasis of calm: the upstairs bar is dotted with comfortable velvet sofas and button-back armchairs that make you want to settle on down for a glass of bubbles. As the first exclusive Billecart-Salmon Champagne bar in London, the cocktail menu includes a signature Dawa (a Kenyan drink translated as magic potion) and the Champagne in Yorkshire (blending champagne, gin, rhubarb liquor and syrup). There are large French windows and white, distressed wood paneling, while downstairs there are stripy cushions, quirky mirrors, and a long bar covered in antiqued steel panels are all very Miami Beach. (020 7734 3342)

1 Kemia Bar
This oasis of Moroccan opulence could humble even the proudest of sultans with its textured earth tones, brass lanterns, and North African art. Award-winning Momo has been a Mayfair fave for years, garnering high praise for its authentic fare, terrific service, and seductive live music. The restaurant's basement bar, Kemia, has become a popular evening spot for patrons looking to enjoy cocktails in a stylish (and secluded) setting. Kemia also features a weekly lineup of World Music performers. TUBE: Piccadilly Circus (20-7434-4040)


Heidi is our Local Expert based in London.  

Read more about Heidi Ruge here.


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Maps and Directions

3
Nightjar 10Best List Arrow
Type: Bar
Neighborhood: Shoreditch
4
Lab 10Best List Arrow
Type: Bar
Neighborhood: SOHO
6
Alphabet 10Best List Arrow
Type: Bar
Neighborhood: Regent Street
8
69 Colebrooke Row 10Best List Arrow
Type: Bar
Neighborhood: Islington
9
Archer Street Cocktail Bar 10Best List Arrow
Type: Bar
Neighborhood: Soho
10
Kemia Bar 10Best List Arrow
Type: Bar
Neighborhood: MAYFAIR